COOS COUNTY — In the past year, county health care, first responders and an entire community banded together to turn around the opioid epidemic on the southern Oregon coast.
Naloxone is a life-saving drug used to reverse an opioid overdose and before last year, there were virtually zero in the hands of community members. Now, naloxone is everywhere and already being used to save lives.
“This is pivotal work,” said Kate Frame, the prescription overdose drug prevention coordinator for Advanced Health. “One of my colleagues uses the phrase, ‘Where there’s breath, there’s life.’ We can’t do anything if they aren’t alive, so the first step is keeping people safe and reducing the impact of harm.”
In the last year, Frame has helped organize the county’s approach in reducing opioid use. Rather than looking at one piece, they looked at multiple safety areas while at the same time searching for the largest impact. Together, they identified four areas, which were supply, demand, harm reduction, and treatment.
“The biggest buckets are demand, why are there so many opioids, and then harm reduction, or how to make people safe now as we help direct them to recovery,” Frame said.
With those two categories in mind, the focus went to bringing naloxone to the area by raising awareness on what it is and then getting it into the community’s hands.
“We had a provider campaign working with us to increase awareness that physicians can co-prescribe naloxone with an opioid to patients,” Frame said. “And pharmacists can prescribe naloxone too.”
In the last year, eight naloxone trainings were held in partnership with HIV Alliance, which brought in people to train trainers.
“That way, they don’t have to do a training whenever we want one,” Frame said. “We will have people in the community who can do it. Our idea was to grow our skills in the community around this and increase community access.”
This is important not only to help save lives, but when a first responder shows up and gives naloxone, it costs a lot of money to the police department.
“So it’s in everyone’s best interest to have naloxone in as many hands as possible,” she said. “Since working on this, we’ve seen a great increase in co-prescribing too. Everyone is working on it.”
Two years ago during the opioid summit, a survey asked people how they felt about the problem. The survey was recently done again and naloxone had the most movement where people saw an influx of resources.
“It’s nice to see some of our efforts working,” Frame said.
For Coos County, it is one of the highest in the state for opioid use and other drugs. Frame spoke with someone saved by naloxone who told her that following care they received put them on the path to recovery.
“They told me that the people in their life told them they don’t want them to die,” she remembered. “So, it goes back to before we do anything else, we need to keep people alive. I translate this work being done to lives being saved.”